women

women in media tasmania launch

Virginia Trioli and Caroline Jones, speakers at the event.  Image credit

Virginia Trioli and Caroline Jones, speakers at the event. Image credit

Women in Media (WiM) Australia is  a nationwide initiative for women working in all facets of the media – from journalists, creatives and media advisors to those working in public relations and corporate affairs. Their mission is simple but profound: to improve the working lives of women in media by addressing fundamental inequalities in the sector - in pay, conditions and opportunities - and to empower women to achieve their professional goals.

WiM now has chapters in every state and territory of Australia, with the launch of the Tasmanian chapter at the world-renowned Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart a few Sundays ago making the initiative truly national. I was delighted and honoured to attend the launch as the guest of the Launceston Freelance Festival and spent a wonderful afternoon meeting new people, making some valuable connections and being truly inspired by some of the stories shared.

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At a time when media freedom feels very shaky, it was a balm to be in a room bustling with energetic, passionate people who believe in the incredible power of storytelling, and the obligations we have to those who trust us with their stories to be brave and back ourselves.

The full room was testament to the generous spirit on which WiM was founded, supporting the wellbeing and advancement of women. “When I started in journalism, there was nothing like this. Women doing my job were very rare,” said Dr Caroline Jones, distinguished broadcaster, who gave the opening address. Caroline is probably best known for being the first woman to anchor the current affairs program Four Corners as well as presenting on ABC Radio National for many years. She is also one of my personal heroes!

Dr Caroline Jones

Dr Caroline Jones

“In my early years I would have loved a women in media group to belong to - to learn how to cope with information overload, how to stand my ground, how to avoid the dreaded imposter syndrome,” said Caroline as many heads nodded around the room.

And then there was the incredible Virginia Trioli, formerly of News Breakfast on the ABC and now host of Mornings of ABC Radio Melbourne, who gave a blistering, moving and powerful keynote address, sharing her experiences of being a ‘difficult’ woman in a very difficult industry. She spoke about the #metoo movement (“we keep men’s secrets, and we do it without even thinking”), about the need for support networks (or rather, escape hatches and safe rooms, as she put it) for women in journalism so it can be easier to stand up for ourselves when we have to, and about the need for truth in our stories, “even if it points out realities that might make you unpopular.”

Virginia Trioli

Virginia Trioli

I loved her honesty and courage and hung on every word (and live tweeted). “If we’re here for one thing it’s surely to be brave,” she concluded. “With others and with ourselves. In the end we can only ever make the calls we do, back ourselves and be brave...we have to be authentic and candid and let the cards fall where they may.”

Virginia Trioli’s wonderful speech was followed by a Q&A with her and Caroline Jones, and then we watched a wonderful short film from the ‘Women of the Island’ series by director Rebecca Thomson. “Everywhere you look, there is a woman with an interesting story,” Thomson said. So very true! Participating in this day really fired me up about storytelling and getting back into my own work, telling the stories I want to tell about the lives of women I’ve met through research, imagination, chance and circumstance.

The Tasmanian Women in Media committee getting some well-deserved applause!

The Tasmanian Women in Media committee getting some well-deserved applause!

It was a magnificent day - a testament to the power, talent and generosity of women in media - where I met so many interesting people and made lots of valuable connections. I even got to shake the hands of the two speakers and tell them how much their work and shining courageous examples have meant to me. “Just be yourself,” was Virginia’s Trioli’s parting advice to me as she left. Words I strive to remember every day, in my work and in life.

I can’t wait to see what the Tasmanian chapter of Women in Media does next!

I attended the day as the guest of the Launceston Freelance Festival and very much appreciate their support!

This weekend, Women in Media are holding their national conference at Bond University in Queensland.

william, an englishman: a book for its time, and ours

persephone-book-1-william-an-englishman

William, An Englishman by Cicely Hamilton was the first book published by my beloved Persephone Books in 1999, a reprint from the novel’s original publication in 1919. If you don’t know about my love affair with Persephone, do check out this post to be brought up to speed!

I stockpiled a number of Persephones before leaving London and this was among them. I read it at bedtime over the course of a few weeks, not something I’d recommend, as it’s not an escapist read to send you off into a dreamy, calm sleep. But it is an incredible book for its time - and for ours.

William and Griselda are young newlyweds, both heavily involved in various causes and social justice, extremely earnest and ready to fight for what they believe in. But they are in actual fact very impressionable, have been swept up in these various movements that were rocking the social foundations of Britain in 1914 (namely socialism and suffrage), and parrot the beliefs of the movements they support, as opposed to analysing and considering them, determining their own moral compasses rather than blindly following a crowd. They think they know what “fight” means but really, they haven’t a clue.

They honeymoon at a remote rural cottage in Belgium in August 1914. After three weeks of contentment, they are blissfully unaware of the world around them (they don't know war has been declared, let alone that Belgium has been invaded) and they don’t even speak the language so they cannot understand the warnings from the farmer's wife who cooks for them (despite everything it's amusing that William and Griselda are so oblivious).

On the day of their departure, they go to the farmhouse nearby to arrange for the boy to carry their suitcases to the train station, as he did when they arrived. Instead, they find the house deserted, with all the people and animals gone, and a lot of evidence to suggest they left in a real hurry. Bewildered, William and Griselda begin their way into the village to the train station on foot, when they are captured by the invading German troops. They finally learn what has happened and from that moment on, are caught up in the brutal, cruel horrors of war - a real one.

Cicely Hamilton spent the entire First World War on the frontline in France - she wrote this novel in a tent during the hostilities. You can tell. This is a woman who saw the horrors of that war firsthand and was unapologetic about exposing the ignorance of so many people as to what was really going on, what "war" really means when you're caught up in the middle of it. As an Australian soldier I knew, who died of his wounds in Iraq some years ago now, said, "it's not beer and skittles."

At the same time, this novel is not entirely "anti war" - Hamilton actually goes after the pacifists quite a bit too, asserting that they live in a "paradise of fools", that the things that were happening in Europe were horrific and the British war effort was actually very important and vital to fight the evil that was brewing on the European mainland.

William and Griselda are initially taken prisoner by the Germans, and separated at this point. William eventually makes an escape and finds Griselda, whose clothes are torn and spirit is crushed, she is utterly traumatised. Hamilton doesn't spell out what's happened to Griselda - we’ve already worked it out. The restraint with which she writes this scene, when they are reunited, is quite extraordinary.

Weakened from injuries and lack of food, the pair attempt to get to safety through the Belgian countryside to the French border. They are helped by travellers along the way, managing to remain out of sight of the enemy. But a road accident weakens Griselda further - and a few days later, as a kindly villager gives them a lift in their cart, she dies lying on a pile of straw.

William then mercifully finds someone who speaks English and manages to get through the trauma of burying his wife. His Good Samaritan, Edith, helps him get the train to Paris and eventually another train and boat back to England, where he arrives a broken man.

Having seen the horrors of what is happening in Europe and determined to stop it, he attempts to enlist in the Army, but he is rejected because he doesn't meet the height requirement. "Oh don't worry, in a few months they won't care about that," William's friend Faraday consoles him. And oh how true that turned out to be.

In the meantime, William attends meetings that he used to go to all the time, full of fiery speeches to motivate everyone into supporting the socialist and pacifist causes, which he loved and felt a sense of community in. But now, he is appalled. These people aren't brave - he realises - for they have sacrificed nothing. They haven't got the first clue what he's been through, what thousands are going through, of the brutality, the horror of what he's witnessed and what he's so cruelly lost. And it must be stopped. Now is not the time for pacifism, in his opinion. He is incensed, enraged and utterly broken.

Eventually he does get accepted by the Army and ends up in what one might deem a communications job - he writes letters, takes dictation, files documents. But then William moves to the third phase of his character development - utter disillusionment. What difference has he actually made? He has done his duty, yes, but what has been the point?

“He hated the war as it affected himself, was weary of the war in general; all he longed for was its ending, which meant his release from imprisonment; but neither hatred nor weariness had blinded his eyes to the folly of that other blindness which had denied that war could be.”

Eventually, as was the fate of so many, he is involved in combat, suffers massive injuries, and dies quietly in a field hospital.


It is not a happy read, but Hamilton did not intend it to be. I think she thought people had their heads far enough into the sand and they needed a reality check. This book won the Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse, the highest honour bestowed on female authors in 1919 (probably the equivalent of the Stella or the Women's Prize today) and no wonder. It’s unforgettable. And I think it's just as relevant a read now as it was then.

belong to nobody but yourself

Simone de Beauvoir ( source )

Simone de Beauvoir (source)

‘In order to write, in order to be able to achieve anything at all, you must first of all belong to nobody but yourself.’ - Simone de Beauvoir responding to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One's Own, in a 1966 lecture called ‘Women and Creativity.’

I have been a (silent) fan of fellow Australian writer Louise Omer (formerly Heinrich) for years. Today, browsing through my Feedly in between bits of spicy leftover rice noodles at my desk, I saw she had updated her website, with a different name. Curious, I read on and clicked on the article she shared which explained why.

I find it interesting that we (and by we, I mean society) are always curious about why a woman changes her name, or doesn't. We assume so many things. If you've been reading me for a while, you'll know I didn't take Tom's surname when we got married eight years ago and no one has ever questioned that decision, least of all him. But sixteen years ago I did take my first husband's surname and I was very excited to, because the idea of being an entirely different person was kind of the point of the whole thing (something I can only acknowledge looking back). Strangely, I would have taken Tom's surname if he had really wanted me to…but he didn’t. And that signalled to me that I’d made the right choice. A man for whom that was vitally important would not have been the right man for me to marry. 

The world is no doubt on the cusp of change, and hopefully it won't always be this way, but it's weird that a woman changing her name or choosing what name she will be known by, still feels like a political act. But to me, and it sounds like to Louise as well, it was a deeply personal way to reclaim my identity and do what felt right to me, in my bones, not just what the convention was. It was time, as Louise says, "for my grown-up name." Which in my case had been my name all along. But for others, their "grown up name" is taking the surname of the person they love and have chosen to spend their life with. Which is totally fine too. We're all just making our private, personal choices. We are all different - a fact that hasn't really been reflected in how women have been treated and expected to behave over the past few centuries. 

Perhaps it comes back to this idea that many of us still feel inhibited when it comes to meeting our own needs. Being selfish, I suppose, which I was raised to think of as a bad thing to be and something to avoid at all costs. But the flipside of that is that you suppress your feelings and desires because you learn early on that expressing them is not safe. In the end you become numb to them and on the rare occasions you are asked directly what you want, you have no idea. 

And there's the "selfishness" you need, in order to create, in order to be an artist. For men this never seems to be an issue but for women it always surfaces at some point. I listened to a podcast a few weeks ago, an interview with American novelist Stephanie Danler, whose words stopped me in my tracks:

"The reasons I left my marriage were not clearcut but they had something to do with writing the book. And that has always felt like a very ugly thing to talk about. There was a point where I felt I had to either choose my life with my husband - the one we had spent six years building together - or I had to choose myself and my novel. And even with the success Sweetbitter has had, I still to this day don't know whether I've made the right choice. But this is the one I'm living with.....I couldn't have done it [written the book] in the relationship I was in, not because it wasn't supportive....but because I couldn't be selfish in the way I found was necessary for me to create. I feel that's a bit of a taboo, it's not something I find women talking about often - is that you actually might have to be deeply, deeply, painfully selfish in order to make art a priority."

 

It’s funny. As I get older and (hopefully) mature, I feel I know my younger self better now than I ever did then. Every time I'm brave enough to confront something in myself, or I read articles like this or listen to podcasts with people who have also been through a divorce young, another lightbulb goes off, another penny drops and I think, yes, that was it, that was what I did, that was what I thought, that was me too

I long for the day when it will no longer be radical for a woman to belong to nobody but herself.

deeds not words

Image originally found via  Old London (@GreatestCapital) on Twitter .

Image originally found via Old London (@GreatestCapital) on Twitter.

This photo is of one of my favourite suffragettes - if one is allowed to have favourites - Emmeline Pethick Lawrence on her release from Holloway Prison in 1908.

Emmeline did amazing work for underprivileged women, founding a dressmaking cooperative that paid women a minimum wage and holiday pay. When she and her husband Frederick were married, they double-barrelled their surnames and had separate bank accounts. Frederick was also a huge supporter of women’s suffrage, helping Emmeline start a publication “Votes for Women” in 1907 and he even went to prison too for conspiracy/taking part in demonstrations. They favoured “militancy without violence” which led to huge disagreements with the Pankhursts and eventually Emmeline and Frederick were thrown out of the Women’s Social and Political Union. But they didn’t give up the fight and spent the rest of their lives campaigning for social justice.

Today on International Women's Day I am proud to acknowledge the passion, sacrifice and courage of Emmeline and so many women like her who fought so hard for equality (and she deserves just as much acknowledgement as the more famous Emmeline in my opinion!). We still have a long way to go but there is so much to thank these brave radical women for. Keep fighting, keep reaching. Today and every day.

i ain't afraid of no ghost

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Photo: Columbia Pictures

I have to confess, I came to the whole Ghostbusters franchise quite late in life – once I met my film buff husband, for whom both Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989) are the equivalent of childhood comfort food. He watches them and he is instantly a little boy again. While I grew up in the same era, I had three younger sisters and so most of the films I was exposed to as a child had to be suitable for all of us. I was also quite a sensitive kid and ghosts were considered too scary! So it was Muppet Babies, Care Bears and My Little Ponies for us, which I don’t think was a deliberate thing on my parents’ part – this was just what was assumed little girls wanted to watch. And we did enjoy them.

Nearly 30 years since the last Ghostbusters film, Paul Feig (director of Bridesmaids and Spy) has revamped the franchise. It is not a remake of the original story, nor merely a continuation of it, but takes the premise of the original, reimagines it and brings it into the modern world. It’s very funny and very clever.

Oh, and the Ghostbusters are all women this time! Something that has a few people up in arms, but I’ll go into that in a minute.

If you don’t know the story of the film, here’s a very brief recap – with many ghostly appearances and happenings in New York City, three physics/parapsychology professors (Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon), linked by the past and by circumstance, find themselves out of their cushy research jobs, joining forces and setting up a ghost removal service. After being called to the Manhattan subway to investigate and attempt to capture a “Class 4 apparition”, metro worker Patty (Leslie Jones) is inspired to join them. The government are distressed and want the Ghostbusters to keep quiet. Meanwhile, Rowan (Neil Casey), a hotel worker with a grudge, is scheming to open the gateway to another dimension which will release untold evil upon the city. So, who you gonna call?

A unique update with high quality performances

Ghostbusters is a fabulous update of a much-loved story and manages to be quite unique at the same time. There are many respectful nods to the original but Feig and the new Ghostbusters manage to make this their own. I particularly enjoyed the fact that, with Manhattan rental prices being famously out of reach of most people, the women can’t afford to set up shop in a funky fire station and end up in dilapidated rooms above a Chinese restaurant that fails, to the chagrin of Melissa McCarthy’s character, to produce a decent wonton soup.

Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann. Photo: Hopper Stone/Columbia Pictures

Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann. Photo: Hopper Stone/Columbia Pictures

All four of the Ghostbusters give high quality performances – being Saturday Night Live alumni, their comic timing is never off and they work really well as an ensemble. The one who stood out the most for me, who stole every scene she was in, was Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann, a character in the same mould as Harold Ramis’s iconic character Egon Spengler in the original. McKinnon brings great depth, and also an element of great joy,  to the mad scientist stereotype by portraying Jillian as a woman with bags of personality, full of quirks, strength and real feelings. 

Another enjoyable aspect of the film is that all of the original Ghostbusters, plus other actors from the 1984 and 1989 films, make cameo appearances at some point. There’s even a sweet nod to the late Harold Ramis (see if you can spot it).

A political/feminist statement?

It’s a shame that this film has been criticised for being “feminist” and “political” – but the very fact that the revamp of a franchise where the lead characters are female instead of male is labelled as a political act rather than one of storytelling says so much about why a film like this is so important.

If you want to read the new Ghostbusters as a political/feminist statement, there is plenty here for you to chew on. The film does, bravely, address the inherent sexism that is still, despite the advances made since Suffragette times, at large and hangs around both in Hollywood and in our culture like chocolate stains on a white blouse. I found it interesting that in the original Ghostbusters, the four men are discredited, shunned and accused of being frauds at every turn – exactly the same thing happens in this version, but of course it feels more loaded, purely because they’re women. I suppose women being confident in themselves and their abilities, and who are competent in a traditionally male dominated field, are still considered radical things in some quarters - I’ve found that to be true in my own life, that’s for sure!

It’s also incredibly refreshing to go and see a Hollywood blockbuster where the focus is not on the attractiveness of the female leads. The Ghostbusters are intelligent and passionate women who are conflicted, quirky and downright loopy. Apart from a few mentions of Patty’s garish jewellery, the women’s physical appearance is secondary, quite rightly so for a film where they all get covered in the ghosts’ ecto-vomit at some point!

But what about the men?

Another common criticism of the film is that the men in it are one-dimensional and typecast, with cries of double standards that one couldn’t get away with portraying women in such a manner these days. Personally, I think it’s a nod to the fact that women have been and in some cases still are portrayed that way but also the fact that men find themselves on the receiving end of sexism too. The movie’s token stud-muffin, receptionist Kevin (played by Chris Hemsworth who, to my delight, keeps his Australian accent), is not immune to being objectified for his looks. Kristen Wiig’s character makes a beeline for him and insists on the Ghostbusters hiring him even though he is the most useless receptionist in the history of the world. Later on (spoiler alert!), Kevin has been possessed by the ghost of the film’s truly creepy villain Rowan and goes back to the hotel where he was a mocked and undervalued janitor to exact his revenge. Two security guards notice him, with his blond hair and muscular physique, and make a wise-crack about how they hadn’t ordered a stripper. Kevin is also the only character to be ‘rescued’ in the film – in the original, of course, it is Dana (played by Sigourney Weaver, who also shows up in this version!), the love interest, who needs rescuing. This time, it’s the other way around. Read into that what you will.

Because, despite what I’ve described above, the film, to its great credit, doesn’t spell any of this out. There are no attacks (apart from ghostly ones). It’s all just implied, in my opinion. Like most things in life, we tend to get what we focus on and if you pick hard enough at the locks of the basement door, a ghost will come out eventually!

Speaking of the ghosts in this film, they are quite creepy – as is the ecto-vomit that comes out of them! 

If your main objective in going to the cinema is to be entertained then you won’t be disappointed by Ghostbusters.  Is it a perfect film? No. But it's fun and there is much to enjoy about it. All the uproar from critics and trolls spewing forth that this film has “ruined” their childhoods and “women aren’t funny” rings truly hollow if you actually bother to see the film. The laughable thing is that it is exactly the ridiculous, misguided criticism of the film, not to mention the despicable attacks Leslie Jones was subjected to on Twitter, that proves how much this film was needed. And we need more of them.

So, if you care about equal representation in Hollywood, if you want to see more blockbusters and action comedies with real women front and centre, if you want your sons and daughters to grow up in a more equal world, or if you just want to forget about life for two hours, pretend you’re nine years old again and have no idea how much sugar is in a Choc-Top ice-cream, go and see this film. It’s sassy, smart and fun.

Ghostbusters is currently showing in cinemas in the UK, the US and Australia, release details for other countries are here.